Tech CMO: Here’s Exactly How We Create Our TV-Style Show
[Editor’s Note: This is a guest article from ThriveHive CMO Dan Slagen, who reveals how they created the company’s first original series, a docuseries called Locals. Find Dan on Twitter here, and watch Locals on the ThriveHive website.]
It’s no secret to marketers that the future is video content. But not just any video content: shows and movies.
We’re already starting to see major investments from brands like Mailchimp and InVision, in addition to smaller companies like Wistia and ProfitWell banking the majority of their future marketing success on video production.
At ThriveHive, we believe in video, and we recently decided to produce Season 1 of a TV-style show called Locals. We’ve learned a TON in the past year, so I wanted to take some time to help share six steps for brands thinking of creating a show of their own.
1. Internal Commitment
This first critical component that separates brands that are succeeding with shows from those that aren’t is commitment. You have to commit to creating a show. It’s as easy and as difficult as that. So how do you commit? Decide on a few key things up front:
Why are you creating a show? Maybe it’s to stand out from competitors, or connect with specific accounts, or to improve partnership opportunities. Maybe it has nothing to do with marketing and sales, and you want to reflect your company’s culture. Whatever the goal is, you need to have one that matters to you.
Our goal was to get closer to our target market (local business owners) and understand them better. I didn’t assign any numerical goals at the start: no view count, leads, or sales goals. My main objective was to get closer to the customer by putting out the best content we could within our chosen timeline.
You also need to commit to the budget, including existing employee time, new hires, equipment, and a possible travel budget.
What time-bound goals will you set? For instance, we committed to producing one season of six episodes, which we would release each month from June to December. Setting a timeline helps you plan the time you need on production and editing.
If you’re not willing to assign people who will be held accountable, then don’t do a show. It won’t come out the way you imagined without a person in charge.
In-house vs. Outsource
Will you use an internal team or hire an outside agency? We wanted to create our show in-house, so we hired one person who was passionate about all things audio/video. We found that passion was the quality that mattered most. You don’t need to hire someone with 20 years’ experience right away; a passionate, quick-learning person can sometimes be the perfect catalyst for your project.
Without buy-in, there’s no point in doing a show. You need buy-in first from your manager (who might even be your CEO). You also need buy-in from your team about why investing in a show is a good idea.
In our situation, I needed to convince our CEO. I did that by focusing the discussion around the brand: one branch of our tri-fold marketing team (composed of demand generation, product marketing, and brand).
I explained that from a marketing standpoint, we were in a pretty crowded space (we offer marketing solutions to local businesses). We already created the category of “guided marketing,” which is how we differentiate ourselves from competitors to our prospects. But our sales cycle is pretty short and not overly complex.
What our prospects want more than anything is trust. They want to be able to trust that we understand them as local business owners. This will improve our top of funnel, it will give us great content for our ads, and it will give us more sales and customer success opportunities (which I’ll get into later on).
Once I explained it that way, getting buy-in was easy. All my CEO asked was that I truly put effort into Season 1 and assume full responsibility for it, rather than just think about this as another item on the marketing checklist.
[Editor’s note: want more in-depth content on how to get buy-in? Join us throughout November 2019 for “Make the Case Month” on MSR. Subscribe free for updates and exclusives.]
2. Show Concept
Next, your show needs a concept. After all, you can’t create a show about nothing, can you?
Okay, fine, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David can, but for everyone else, the conceptual details are vital. Here’s how we think about them:
What will the theme of your show be? We really wanted to create a show that was a mix of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” and “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe.” Those were two shows I admired in the past and felt would work perfectly with our target market of local business owners: honest, hard-working people who care about the place they live and work.
As we developed the concept a bit more, however, the idea matured. In each episode, we spent time with a local business owner to pull back the curtain on their lives. We asked questions to get a full understanding of them: Their childhood, personality, education, hobbies, and interests, as well as how they started their business and its associated challenges. To us, that had meaning, passion, and authenticity. If your show theme has those three things, you’ll be setting yourself up for success.
Once we solidified our theme, the show practically named itself: Locals.
Is the show better raw or meticulously edited? Are there segments and chapters? And where are you going to be shooting? In an office? In a studio? In the wild? When we chose our show theme, we effectively chose our format. To show life as a local business owner, we knew we’d be on-site for all of our episodes.
Is the show going to be funny or serious? Are you trying to teach people, entertain them, or a mix of the two? Is your desired energy more upbeat or mellow? Have these discussions with your team ahead of time to help set your direction.
We wanted to do full-length TV-style shows, so our episodes run 20 to 45 minutes.
I don’t think you need to focus too much on who you’re creating the show for, but rather who is going to be the star of your show. For instance, we created a show about local business owners. But at this point, people watching our shows include our own employees, employees at other tech companies and non-tech companies, family, friends, and yes, local business owners.
Some people watch because they’re local business owners. Others just like the show and, in turn, they share it with local business owners they know. When discussing target audiences, it might make sense to think about both: your customers and those who influence them.
3. Planning (i.e., Pre-Production)
Next, you need to create an overall plan for your first season, as well as sub-plans for each individual episode. This includes:
Some companies film an entire season in one day, while some film each episode one at a time. Since we had never done a show before, we started working on one episode at a time. We knew we’d be learning and making mistakes frequently during our first season, and this gave us the opportunity to improve with each new episode.
Who are you profiling or what are you exploring? Discuss themes and segments, and plan the exact timing of your shoots. Also ask: Does the weather potentially impact your shoot? Who is going to be involved from your company? Who is going to be involved from outside your company? How far out do we need to book internal and external contributors and subjects?
When we first started planning Episode 1 of Locals, we needed to find one local business owner who would agree to be on the show, and this wasn’t easy. I cold-emailed 10 and didn’t hear back for awhile. Eventually, the Boston-based food truck and restaurant mini-empire Chicken & Rice Guys responded and said they’d be interested in hearing more. We pitched them our grand plan and highlighted the fact we’d treat them and their brand like gold, as they were agreeing to be our first guest. They ended up loving it and agreed to do it.
Once we had that first episode done and on our website, finding guests became easy: We could show them what we’d done to get them excited and address any concerns. Still, scheduling guests remains challenging. You just have to acknowledge that and be flexible.
This is so, so important. I wish we had storyboarded during our first episode. I wish we were better at storyboarding now, too. The general idea is to map out your episode to decide on setting, subjects present, and what you’ll discuss. Having an outline to fall back on will help provide structure, but it’s also important not to become overly reliant on it if something more interesting arises.
You’ve done the hard work of reaching this point. Next:
This varies greatly depending on the project, but for Locals, we’ve spent less than $3,000 on equipment. We use:
- Tripod – Manfrotto MVH500A Fluid Drag Video Head with MVT502AM Tripod and Carry Bag
- Hard drive – LaCie 4TB Rugged Mobile Hard Drive (Thunderbolt & USB 3.0 Type-C)
- Backup hard drive – Seagate 8TB Expansion Desktop USB 3.0 External Hard Drive
- Recorder kit – Tascam DR-70D Recorder Filmmaker Kit
- Camera – Canon EOS Rebel T7i DSLR Camera with 18-55mm Lens
- Camera lens – Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens
- SD cards – Multiple Sandisk Pro SD Class 10 cards ranging from 32-128GB
- Camera stabilizer – Zhiyun-Tech Crane v2 3-Axis Handheld Gimbal Stabilizer
- Shoulder bag – Ruggard Journey 24 DSLR Shoulder Bag (Black)
- Backup battery pack – Canon LP-E17 Lithium-Ion Battery Pack
- Microphones – Sennheiser EW 512P G4 Pro Wireless Lavalier Mic Pack (AW + 470-558 MHz)
Preparing to Shoot
We try our best to keep our shooting strategy simple, considering we only have one person filming. The first thing we’re thinking about is the video quality.
- How is the lighting? Too dark, too light?
- What angle are we trying to shoot?
- Are people in frame?
- If multiple people are being filmed together, are they standing too close or too far away from each other?
- Are people slouching or looking uncomfortable on camera?
- How’s the audio? Is there any background noise? Could there be unexpected interruptions?
Being mindful of how you’re shooting will help you perfect the right style for your show. Test everything, and always have backup plans.
Your role is to make sure the people being filmed come across as best they can. As long as you establish that prior to shooting, people won’t be offended if you ask them to do another take or you stop filming to make a suggestion.
As the host of the show, I love when my team yells at me, maybe because I’m not looking in the right place, my voice sounds weird, or I could say my line better. Of course, I want them to tell me these things. Don’t be afraid to be honest with folks, even if they’re “more senior” than you.
Turning raw footage into something people will want to watch is absolutely an art, but there are a few guiding production principles we try to adhere to on our team.
We start with our timeline. Once we complete shooting, we set our go-live date. This helps the team stay on track, not over-invest irresponsibly in certain areas of production, and maintain high energy. A clear launch date also lets the rest of the marketing team prepare for pre-launch, launch, and post-launch marketing activities.
Transitioning from one segment to another is a great way to divide an episode into parts. We use a graphical overlay to tell viewers when a new segment is coming, then we have a transition screen introduce and explain each segment.
Keeping vs. Cutting Material
We usually have two hours of footage that we need to cut down to 20-40 minutes. We first upload all the raw footage internally and share it with the core team working on our shows. This includes designers, marketers, and editors. As people watch, they highlight which sections they think will be valuable to viewers. We limit this process to two to three revisions total.
Make sure you make teaser videos promoting your episodes. Your full episodes should live solely on your website, as third parties like YouTube and Vimeo ultimately care about their businesses, not yours. (For instance, YouTube suggests others’ videos around or after yours, and you don’t own subscriber data. They do.) But if you make teasers, you should post them elsewhere, as well as promote on social media, in paid ads, and in blog posts or PR announcements.
6. Measurement and Distribution
When measuring our show, we pay attention to:
How many people are watching our episodes? Is that number going up or down over time? What is our projected view count 6-12 months from now? Does it align with our goals?
What percent of views convert by subscribing via email? Our views-to-subscribers conversion rate is between 10 and 15% per video. How can we best leverage our subscriber base?
How many people and what percentage of people are sharing our episodes across social media? Are our shares going up or down over time? What can we do to increase shares?
How many people and what percentage of people comment on our episodes and write to us or about us?
Average completion time
How long are people watching for? What percent complete our episodes?
While not a determining factor of success in the early days, it’s always great to know if your episodes are leading to direct revenue. During our first season, we have heard from sales that new customers and partners come to us directly from seeing Locals, many of which heard about us for the first time through the show.
As for distribution, we think about two separate ways of promoting our show: internal distribution within the company, and external distribution.
We share our episodes primarily via email with employees, customers, prospects, evangelists, advisors, investors, and so forth. They get to know our company culture and our customers better (most of our team has never run a local business) which indirectly improves company-wide results, but we ask folks to share episodes on social media, which directly improves the show’s results.
We first and foremost try to get as much traffic to our website to watch the full episode as possible. That’s where we want to build our audience above all else. Before we launch a new episode, we start by sharing teaser videos that are anywhere from 10-30 seconds long to get people excited about the upcoming show. We share them mostly on social, and sometimes via paid ads.
We’ll also do a bigger campaign on launch day for a new episode and get as many people as we can to interact with and share our posts and emails, leading people to our website and the episode itself.
After the episode, we then think about all the ways we can reuse the content: a written recap, a podcast recap sharing lessons learned, a newsletter send, PR, etc.
As with any new initiative, I’m certain over time our strategy will change and evolve, but having an initial framework in place has been wildly helpful to get us going.
As you get started, you’ll quickly realize there’s so much you don’t know or are learning on the fly. And that’s OK. None of it should keep you from creating your own show. If it had stopped us, we wouldn’t be receiving the customer love or audience attention we are today.
More and more marketing is moving to video, and more and more video success comes from making shows. Start with a plan, keep learning, and reap the rewards.
Dan Slagen is the CMO & CCO of ThriveHive, a startup advisor, and the former CMO at Alignable and Nanigans. He previously worked in marketing at HubSpot and Wayfair.